From the vast continent of Africa to the passionate islands of the Caribbean, through the Mediterranean Sea, we cannot resist the prowess of these incredible women. They unite the past with the future, without denying their roots, in tune with the reality of their homeland, embracing the sounds of our era. They’re fully aware of what it means to be a woman in today’s world. They’re the ones who carry the magnetic melodies and spread the good vibes. They’re fighters, they’re sensual, they’re inspiring!
When it comes to female powerhouses, what better way to start than with an artist who has fascinated us from the beginning? Fatoumata Diawara has an eventful past: she was born in the Ivory Coast but at the age of 12 her Malian parents decided to send her to live in Bamako with an aunt who was an actress. Before she turned 18, she had already appeared in a few local films. Later, when she came of age, she escaped to France to pursue acting and prevent her family from forcing her to marry. She began singing backstage, in rehearsals for plays by the Royale de Luxe theater company. The director listened to her and encouraged her to do so during her performances.
Little by little, Fatoumata Diawara began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes. She turned fully to her new passion: bought a guitar, taught herself how to play it, and began writing her own songs. In 2011, she released her first solo records, the EP Kanou and the LP Fatou. Since then, Diawara understood that her music could also be a way to express herself and do activism. Her songs touch on issues such as migration, slavery, human trafficking, censorship, racism, and African identity. Two years ago, Damon Albarn called her to collaborate on Gorillaz’s single “Désolé.” And this year she released Maliba, a short seven-song album inspired by the Timbuktu manuscripts.
Despite singing everything she believes is unfair, Noga Erez prefers not to be labeled as a protest artist. As she told The Observer five years ago, her songs are more a conversation with herself than open activism, a way to “process the issues that bother me about the world.” The Israeli singer-songwriter made this clear from the start with her first single “Dance While You Shoot”. “How can you dance, how can you have fun and live your privileged life when you know that the very existence of your life is something that harms others? I mean, 30 minutes away from where I live, extreme things happen every day,” she said about the song that previewed her 2017 debut album Off the Radar.
Noga Erez grew up in Caesarea, an affluent town located halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. She studied music from a very young age and dabbled with different instruments and styles – in fact, in 2011, she worked on a jazz album that she almost finished and decided to scrap to produce electronic music. Her first record allowed her to tour all over Europe and perform at some of the best festivals, including Primavera Sound, SXSW, Pitchfork Paris, and Roskilde. Early last year, Noga released her second album Kids, with the advance single “Views” leading to her appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live television show.
Just a decade ago, during an event as unlikely as a boxing match, Bob Dylan heard Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar sing: “I was watching Floyd Mayweather fight a boxer from Puerto Rico, and someone sang the Puerto Rican national anthem. And it was beautiful, it was heartfelt, it was moving.” Now seven years have passed since she stopped using the PG-13 alias to be called simply iLe. That old artistic name, of course, responded almost exclusively to her role as a singer of Calle 13, along with her half-brothers Visitante and Residente.
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ileana showed an interest in music from a very young age. Still, it wasn’t until the adventure of Calle 13 ended, in 2015, that she began to forge her solo career. The following year she made her big debut with Ilevitable, winner of a Grammy for “Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album”. By the end of April 2019, iLe was in full celebration, not only for her 30th birthday but also for the upcoming release of her second record. Titled from a play on words between “armor” and “tough soul,” Almadura is a concept album that portrays Puerto Rico’s cultural past, present, and future through an autobiographical narrative. Renowned salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri plays on two tracks.
La Dame Blanche
Singer and multi-instrumentalist, specializing in percussion and flute, Yaite Ramos is La Dame Blanche. Born and raised in Pinar del Río, the westernmost province of Cuba, she has lived in Paris for quite some time. That’s where her stage name in French came from: “I created it because I’m Black, because of my spirituality and connection with the mysteries,” she explained about this alias that ironically defines her. And that’s where she cooks this stew of multiple flavors, in a state of a constant mix between the urban and the Latin, the fierce and the sensual, from Afro-Cuban music to hip-hop, cumbia, and reggae.
Two years ago, songs like “La Maltratada” and “La Condenada” reached our ears. It was just the first snack of that banquet that is Ella, an album full of fueling rhythms, heartfelt songs, and lyrics driven by the feeling of an empowered woman; a powerful work and a true tribute to women, with ten songs that address each side of La Dame Blanche. Last year we continued to see her very inspired, collaborating with other female singers like Pahua and Amanda Magalhães, and spicing up a version of her single “Veneno” for a COLORS show. She was so motivated that she gave two more high-flying performances, this time for NÉONAIR and for KEXP.
Originally from Cape Verde, Mayra Andrade usually spends her days between Lisbon and Paris. As a child, she moved around a ton: Senegal, Angola, Germany. Music has always fascinated her from an early age. So growing up for her also meant learning to sing and play guitar on her own. In 2001, at just 16 years old, she won the Jeux de la Francophonie song contest. Five years later, she already had her own and more defined musical style after immersing herself in the cultural diversity of the Cape Verde Islands. It was then the ideal time for her to release her debut album Navega.
Mayra Andrade became a must-know artist in Portuguese-speaking countries. Her subsequent recordings featured musicians from around the world, from a Cameroonian double bass player to a Brazilian percussionist, including a kora player from Guinea. She also used great arrangers for string and brass instruments, such as Jacques Morelenbaum and Lincoln Olivetti, respectively. Her fifth and most recent album is 2019’s Manga.